Edit: Please note that this post pre-dates my decision to shift to a plant-based diet.
I’ve fallen in love with meal prep as I ensure that I am feeding myself good food and at the end of the day, make myself feel better. And I promise you, it takes less than two-three hours on your weekend (not including the shopping) to prepare some honest, healthy food for yourself (and your loved ones!). I’ve actually even done it in one hour before!
I live in a beautiful country called Malaysia, and every single Malaysian you meet will tell you one of the best things about this country is FOOD. Almost too good a thing, if you ask me. It makes going on a journey to better health so much more difficult with all the incredible temptations! But I’ve been on this journey for a little while now, and I find myself in a much better mood and able to handle my chronic illness better by taking control of what I eat. And I prefer to feel better eating well and eating clean than suffering the consequences of indulging in something that isn’t good for me. Life is too short to feel awful all the time.
I work full-time at a typical “9 to 5”, so during lunch break it’s normal for us to head out of the office to buy some lunch. Trust me, it’s really, really hard to find good food options when everything is: Fried. Served with white rice. Cooked with MSG. Doused in oil. Not GF friendly. If a healthier-option food place has opened up near your office, which is rare, then your really lucky. Not all of us are. Of course, I have a few tricks up my sleeve and have sussed out which foods are okay for me and which aren’t, and with this I’ve rolled out a healthy meal prep plan for myself that has worked really well and hopefully some of the tips will help you!
Before you start meal prep, you’ll need a few supplies:
- The number of containers you would require for lunch during the week. I prep for three lunches a week to keep two lunches free for external lunch appointments, so I have three containers. I love my salad box as it allows me to separate the ingredients so that things don’t get soggy before I eat it, but any container would work fine
- One small jar, for salad dressing
- One larger container, in which I make a large batch of overnight oats for my sisters and I to scoop out portions for breakfast over the week. Separate containers work too, if you need a breakfast to-go
- Freezer bags, for frozen bananas or smoothie prep
- A cooler bag to carry your lunch in. I LOVE my cooler bag, which I picked up from Daiso, the RM5 store. It’s a little snug depending on what I carry along but it usually does the trick
- Baking sheets, for making granola and roasting your vegetables (and protein)
The last item is key to the short prep time – roasting your vegetables or protein saves you time in the kitchen. You simply chop everything up, toss with some olive oil or coconut oil, salt, pepper and dried herbs, put it in the oven and set the timer for 20-40 minutes so you don’t have to stress over a stove.
One thing about the usual healthy meal prep tutorials out there is that they usually prep the same things, day in and day out. I cannot eat like that – I can’t eat the same carbohydrates two days in a row! So what I’ve devised ensures some variety, which keeps me really happy.
I do not have specific recipes for my meal prep. I have yet to fully replicate a lunch within the space of a month, that’s how much variety I’m getting. You could make the same lunches, if that suits you. It will make your meal prep much faster too. Maybe I have too strong an intuition in the kitchen, but if you cook the things you like, and put it together the way you like, it will be perfect for you!
So here’s how I work on my meal prep every weekend –
This is what I usually prep, according to my lifestyle:
- Three breakfasts
- Two-three smoothies/smoothie bowls (Two for breakfast, one extra for dessert one evening)
- Granola, every two weeks, for smoothie bowls or with yoghurt and fruit
- Three lunches – prep in just five steps
- Fruits for the week
- Snack for the week
- Bonus: Bone broth, when making roast chicken
The bulk of the meal prep will be the lunches. I start with coming up with a baseline of the three lunches I would like to prepare for, so I can shop effectively for them. Planning is key to less wastage too. My formula is as below, using the food that I love, and I usually layer one of each and mix it up for variety. Use what you love, don’t force yourself to eat something you don’t enjoy:
- One fresh green leaf base: mixed salad leaves, baby spinach, kale
- Any mix of fresh vegetables: cucumber, shredded carrot, cherry tomatoes
- Any mix of roasted root/hard vegetables: sweet potato (my absolute favourite), pumpkin, beetroot, potato
- Any mix of roasted soft vegetable: cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, zucchini, baby corn
- One or two gluten-free, whole-grain carbohydrate: millet, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, brown rice pasta. Usually brown rice is made one dinner a week, and I use that to supplement one of the lunches.
- One or two protein: whole chicken, chicken breast, fish, tofu, tempeh
- Extras: cheese, yoghurt, pesto, hummus, nuts and seeds
- Lunch 1: Greek-inspired Greek salad – baby spinach, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, millet, chicken breast. Herb vinaigrette. Potential extra: feta cheese.
- Lunch 2: Roast veg salad – baby spinach, eggplant, zucchini, sweet potato, tempeh. Pesto. Sunflower seeds.
- Lunch 3: Brown rice pasta with pesto, side salad of cucumber and cherry tomatoes.
I check my cupboards, fridge and freezer to see what I need to replenish. I then go to the grocery store to do my shopping. My healthy, weekly meal prep then follows the ten steps as below:
- Breakfast: I make my overnight chia oats recipe, made in bulk which in my household is times by nine, because my sisters eat it too.
- Smoothies: I cut up ripe bananas as I do in my green tea banana “nice cream” recipe and keep them in the freezer. On the day, I throw into a blender a handful of bananas, frozen berries, other soft fruits on hand and even baby spinach for extra nutrition, add soy milk and blend. Takes less than five minutes and you get a nutritious, really feel-good smoothie for breakfast (or dessert!).
- Granola: I turn on the oven and make my nutty mixed berry superfood granola, or any other granola I’m experimenting with that week. When that’s in the oven, I can start preparing for the lunches.
- Lunch Part One, the hard vegetables: Cut up all the root or hard vegetables, the ones that need a little extra time. Sometimes I go for wedges, or just cubes. It’s important to have them equal sized for even baking. Toss with olive oil or coconut oil, salt, pepper and dried mixed herbs, and place on a baking sheet. When your granola is done, you can place the root vegetables in. This will take between 20 minutes for smaller cuts or up to 40 for larger cuts. Check at 20 and go from there.
- Part One-point-two, whole roast chicken: If making a whole roast chicken, which is a good idea for feeding more than one person, rub the chicken with olive oil or coconut oil, salt, pepper and mixed herbs and place it with the root vegetables for roasting. The chicken will need between 40-60 minutes depending on size. When finished, let cool and shred (sometimes I keep the breast pieces whole). Use the bones for a super nourishing, super easy bone broth as a bonus.
- Lunch Part Two, the soft vegetables: Cut the softer vegetables, preparing as above. Once the hard vegetables are ready, roast the soft vegetables. They only need 15-20 minutes.
- Part Two-point-two, roast chicken breast: If you’d like to save time, prepare the chicken breast as above with the whole roast chicken, skin on (for flavour, I usually remove after baking because I personally don’t enjoy chicken skin). Roast with the soft vegetables. It is usually done in 15 minutes, cut the middle with a knife and make sure the juices run clear before removing.
- Part two-point-three, baked fish: Place a single fish fillet on tin foil and add some olive oil, salt, pepper and some chopped garlic or lemon zest. Wrap the foil tightly and bake with the soft vegetables for 20 minutes. It’s ready when the fish flakes easily with a fork.
- Part two-point-four, tofu or tempeh: you can marinate the tofu or tempeh before baking it for more flavour. Bake with the vegetables for 20 minutes.
- Lunch Part Three, the grains: While the vegetables and protein are cooking, cook two portions of grain of choice for the week according to package instructions
- Lunch Part Four, the dressing: I prepare a dressing like my mamalicious homemade herb vinaigrette in a small jar to take to keep in the office fridge, to enjoy with any salad I bring to office for lunch.
- Lunch Part Five, the assembly: Let everything cool before assembling. Set out your three lunch containers and any separate parts:
- For cold salads: Layer your salad with wet ingredients on the bottom, such as hummus, yoghurt or pesto (unless you use a separate, mini container), fresh veg such as cucumbers and cherry tomatoes; then layer hardier items such as the roast vegetables and the protein; finally, add the fresh green leaves on top.
- For warmer salads: If you’d like to warm up part of your salad, I keep green leaves in the larger compartment along with the fresh veg, and have the roast veg and protein in a separate compartment which I then heat up slightly in the pantry before adding to the greens.
- For warm dishes like rice or pasta: I pack a salad separately, so that I have sufficient vegetable intake for the day.
- Snacks: If I feel up for it, I prepare date-nut truffles, or pesto or hummus for dipping carrot and cucumber sticks in. Otherwise, I just wash some fruits and keep it in the fridge.
- BONUS: If you made a whole roast chicken, save the bones to make a really nourishing bone broth which you can keep in the freezer and use in soups, or cook your grains in to make it truly delicious. It’s too simple: throw the bones into a large pot with one onion (you don’t even have to peel, just chop in half), one carrot, one celery, one bay leaf and a few peppercorns and cover completely with water. Bring this to a boil and let it simmer for a minimum of two hours to at best six hours to really extract all the awesome nutrients. Let this cool, portion it up and keep in the fridge for up to five days or in the freezer for longer.
Just ten steps to keeping healthy for the work week! I honestly think that’s a bargain considering the benefits you will reap in the long run.
I would love to hear how you keep healthy during the work week! Do you have your own meal prep tips? What’s your favorite? Do share!